Lithuania, a colourful Baltic state
Fun, vibrant and always welcoming, Lithuania has enjoyed rapid modernisation since becoming the first state to gain independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Set amid sprawling grasslands, quiet forests and flat, rolling plains, Lithuania's natural landscape has a strange, alluring beauty that still bears the scars of many decades of invasion and occupation. A deeply Catholic country, Lithuania is also one of the EU's fastest growing economies with many cities displaying an exciting mix of age-old tradition and sleek modernity.
With great food, enjoyable company, and a fiercely proud culture that bursts out from every dramatic landmark, Lithuania is one of Europe's great survivors and a destination well worth exploring.
Flights to Lithuania from London take you into Vilnius Airport, which is a short distance from the capital city, Vilnius. Brimming with baroque splendour, Vilnius is a Baltic beauty known for its flamboyant architecture. A stroll around the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reveals the city's rich medieval charm.
At the splendid Cathedral Square, the belfry is a notable attraction while the cathedral itself contains a treasure strove of glorious white stucco sculptures. St Anne's Church is the oldest building in the city and is a 16th-century masterpiece of delicate Gothic craftsmanship.
History and architecture
A visit to the Hill of Crosses, near Šiauliai, is not only a haunting experience but a fascinating insight into the resistance to Soviet occupation that lasted from 1944 until 1990. Symbolic of Lithuania's fierce devotion to Catholicism, the Hill of Crosses is a gritty, shining chaos of crosses and icons that together make an utterly evocative spectacle.
The Trakai Island Castle is set in idyllic surroundings of lakes and forests, with red-bricked Gothic towers showcasing its architectural prowess. Built in the 1400s and restored extensively in the 19th and 20th centuries, the castle played an important strategic role in reinforcing the power of the great Lithuanian dukes.
Food and drink
Being at the geographic centre of Europe, Lithuanian cuisine is influenced by many cultures that come together to create a distinct culinary heritage. Many dishes are similar to Scandinavian traditions, with a Jewish and Baltic twist thrown in. Indeed, before World War Two, Lithuania had a large Jewish population and the influence of that culture can be found in many Lithuanian favourites. Dumplings can be enjoyed, along with special donuts and meals full of potatoes and sausage meats.
Lokys, in Vilnius, is a popular eatery featuring an array of popular Lithuanian delicacies such as beaver-meat stew with plums or quail with blackberry sauce. Meanwhile, Arkos mixes Lithuanian traditions with modern international dishes.
Lithuania has a thriving night scene centred on Vilnius' bustling clubs and cafés. Islandijos Street is always lively, with many clubs such as Opium and Briusly open until the early hours. Elsewhere, dance and house music enlivens the cobbled streets of Kaunas, where many students dance the night away at Glamour Latino or the stylish Blue Orange.